Okay, so, it's sort of a no-brainer that super-severe calorie restriction (i.e. being really, really hungry all the time) can do a number on your ability to focus on everyday tasks—because, you know, your brain needs calories to function just like the rest of your body. But one new study suggests that even not-so-drastic dieting can have a negative effect on your brain in a much less chemical way.
It might just be distracting. Because a lot of diets are a confusing, complicated, time-consuming pain in the ass.
That's because, says Sendhil Mullainathan, professor of economics at Harvard University, dieting clogs up your brain with all its obsessive planning and calculating. In other words, worrying about weight loss takes up much of the precious brain bandwidth you might otherwise use for problem-solving, or rocket science, or remembering the name of the drummer of The Black Keys (Patrick Carney, for the record).
There's another unintended consequence of not having enough bandwidth; you may unwittingly sabotage your diet. For a study published in the Journal of Consumer Research, one group had their mental bandwidth taxed by being given a difficult task while the other was given a more simple test. They were then given the choice between cake or fruit. The participants who'd been more heavily taxed ate the most cake. To wit: The less bandwidth you have, the harder it is to actually stick to a diet.
So, what's the solution? Choose a diet that requires less thinking.
Mullainathan recommends the Atkins diet, because it's fairly straightforward—you just avoid bread and sugar and eat fistfuls of bacon for every meal. Ta-daaah! "Health"!
Dear friends: Whatever strategy you choose for your body's "longterm weight management" (if that's a goal you find fulfilling and healthful for you), I sincerely urge you to make sure it's good for your brain too. There's no point in sacrificing your mind for the sake of your butt.
Not that there's anything wrong with your butt. #youhaveagreatbutt